Seven Things I’ve Learned About Starting to Exercise

(1) It doesn’t fit my lifestyle. I like to eat and I’m too busy.

(2) It’s worse than boring. It’s uncomfortable. There’s nothing to think about except how awful you feel.

(3) It’s necessary. Eating cake and French fries makes you feel lousy. So does wearing tight pants. Plus, if climbing stairs is exhausting, there’s no way you’ll ever hike Angel’s Landing or play racquetball with your kids.

(4) It takes determination. The first day of anything is easy. Get up and do it. But what about Day 2 when it feels even worse? Or Day 5 when you’re too busy? Or Day 12 when you still haven’t lost ten pounds? Grit your teeth and keep it up.

(5) It gets better. Day 15 is better than Days 1, 3, 5, or 7.

(6) You gain momentum, not weight. Once you’re committed you don’t want as much cake. Why squander forty minutes of sweating on three minutes of swallowing? As the belt loosens, the resolve tightens.

(7) It changes you. Getting healthy affects your body, mind, and soul. You think younger, gain confidence, and find a world of adventure within your reach (e.g., Angel’s Landing; racquetball; etc.). Well worth a few weeks of misery as you fit into your new lifestyle.


Seven things I learned from The Giver, by Lois Lowry

IMG_64891. Choice creates risk.
With choice come wrong choices, and wrong choices bring harm. Given the harm, it’s tempting to eliminate choice. But choice brings joy and maturity. Better to equip the chooser to choose than to remove the choice.

2. Pain is something we avoid.
Superficial avoidance is easy — simply find something to take your mind off the pain. But pain can last long and run deep. The only way to eliminate that kind of pain is to eliminate feelings. The trouble is, without feelings, life’s color drains away. That’s a bleak way to live.

3. Memories can be painful.
Since we don’t like pain, we choose not to remember. But many things ought never to be forgotten.

4. Choice, pain, and memories bring wisdom.
We learn from the choices we make. From trial and error, risk and reward. And we grow wise by remembering what happened. Or by learning what happened to others. Parents, teachers, mentors, books — these are the relationships and resources that turn choice, pain, and mindfulness into wisdom. The key is not to avoid pain, memories, or choice. It’s to cultivate loving relationships.

5. Enforced uniformity can be well-meaning.
According to a Wall Street Journal interview with Lois Lowry (6/20/2014), the story emerged from watching her aging father forget painful memories. By forgetting, he was spared their sorrow. What if our minds could be manipulated so we would all forget our painful memories? she wondered. Would that be nice? Thankfully, she thought it through, and now we know the answer.

6. Story reveals reality.
It’s in our nature to divert our eyes. To avoid the burden of grim realities. But when someone kills a healthy baby right in front of you, there’s nowhere else to look. Story makes such things possible. It turns knowledge into vivid experience. The Giver is read by schoolchildren around the world. Perhaps they will retain the moral clarity awakened by Chapter 19 when faced with their own life choices. It’s chilling, and not easily forgotten. Nor should it be.

7. Rudeness can be a virtue.
Not the rudeness of dishonor or contempt, but of naming the truth in a culture of lies. It is rude to ask or observe uncomfortable things. But not always wrong. It may be like turning on the light.

Parting Thought: It was wise to write this as a children’s book. Simply told, the story is believable. It’s also powerful, nuanced, and disturbing. Curiously, like other dystopian classics (eg., 1984, Fahrenheit 451), it features invasive technology. The speaker on the wall, always listening. Just like many of us now have in our homes.

Following Jesus • 43 / Answering the right question

Read This: John 3:1-3

A non-sequitur is a statement that doesn’t logically follow from the previous statement.

Nicodemus wouldn’t have come to Jesus if he wasn’t looking for something. He was trying to understand who Jesus was. God must have sent him because he’s doing things only God can do.

Acts of God were nothing new. The Scriptures were full of them, from His creation of the universe to His calling of Abraham, delivering His people from Egypt, guiding and providing for them in the wilderness, protecting them from their enemies — and all the miracles done through Moses and the prophets. The Jewish people knew the power and presence of God.

Now here was this Jesus, saying and doing things that reminded Nicodemus of stories he’d read in Scripture. Stories about prophets seeing and hearing things they were not privy to, causing jars of oil to not run out, multiplying food to feed groups of people, and facing kings down with righteous indignation.

God, the Creator of everything, was known to supernaturally intervene when His people needed provision, protection, or confrontation. And He usually did it through men. Such men served God’s interests and communicated His will. And God had promised to send another such man in the future. A Messiah, who would restore the kingdom to Israel. God’s kingdom. God’s king.

When you read Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus’s question, it seems a non-sequitur. Actually, it was exactly what Nicodemus was looking for — but could not yet see.

Following Jesus • 42 / Acting on belief

Read This: John 3:1-2

Jesus’ upending of the temple bazaar produced results. Many who were there believed what He said because of what He did — including Nicodemus, a national leader. Not just a religious leader, he was a member of the elite group who ruled the nation.

Nicodemus didn’t approach Jesus in the temple. He came after hours. Some accuse him of stealth, while others suggest it’s easier to talk in private. Both make sense given the context.

An expert in the Scriptures, Nicodemus was working to reconcile them with what he saw and heard from Jesus. He was also respectful, addressing Jesus as Rabbi and acknowledging that Jesus must have come from God. “No one can do these signs (miracles) unless God is with him.”

This was not flattery. Jesus had done things only God can do. Nicodemus understood this and believed Jesus was from God.

What Nicodemus apparently didn’t believe, and likely couldn’t imagine, was that Jesus was God. No one could comprehend God becoming a man. Why would He? They had a religious system for relating to Him, and Nicodemus was part of it.

Yet, Jesus was doing things only God can do, He referred to God as His Father, and John the Baptist had referred to Him as God’s Son.

Nicodemus was a wise man. The implications of these things were too significant to ignore, so he set an example for us. He went straight to the source and started asking questions.

A picture I’ll never forget


On this day last year, after 63 years of marriage, my dad kissed his high school sweetheart goodbye. By the kindness of God, Beck and I were there — it was the final day of our annual visit.

The three of us kissed her one last time, gathered her things, and drove home. When we got there, Dad found a pen and wrote on his kitchen calendar. Then he stood there, lost in thought. That’s the picture I’ll never forget.

When I called him today, he was still thinking about her. “More than ever,” he said. “She was a special lady.”

Yes she was.



Following Jesus • 41 / Belief and trust

Read This: John 2:23-25

So much hangs on belief. From consequential decisions to daily choices, what we believe shapes our seventy years — and the people following in our wake.

The question is, what shapes our belief? Ideally, it’s rooted in careful study, reliable testimony, or first-hand experience. Yet, we’re relational and emotional creatures. Many of our beliefs sprout from impressions, assumptions, or traditions.

The religious leaders who confronted Jesus in the temple believed in God, Scripture, and the coming Messiah. But they also seemed to harbor assumptions about their Messiah. It appears they didn’t believe he would be God. Despite the signs and Scriptures indicating Jesus was their Deliverer, they didn’t see it.

But others noticed. They too knew the prophetic Scriptures, and they were watching and listening carefully.

John’s use of the word sign points to the authority and validity of a messenger and his message. Extraordinary things were happening. Stories were circulating. Jesus’ powerful demonstration of authority in the temple matched the authority, character, and moral force attributed to the Messiah in Scripture. These people took note, observed the details, and weighed the evidence. Things lined up, and they were persuaded that Jesus was the Messiah.

It seems clear they believed in Jesus. The language John uses points to valid belief. But the passage also states that Jesus did not believe* in them. Why not?

The narrative tells us He knew what was in their hearts. He likely knew their ideas about the Messiah were not the same as His. And He knew that first impressions don’t grow into mature convictions overnight. Not everyone who picks up an instrument learns how to play. It wasn’t time. There was more to be done.

But it was a start. These people believed. Some of them may even have joined the large group of disciples who followed Jesus throughout His public ministry.

This is how we become disciples. We read, consider, believe, and follow. And in the following, we learn the ways of our Master.


* The Greek word for entrust is the same word as believe.

Five tips for writing a book introduction

When you buy a novel, you’re paying for a story. That’s why storytellers drop you right into the action. Never keep a customer waiting.

Nonfiction is different. Readers buy books to reap benefits — whether it’s to learn something or gain expertise. They want to go somewhere, and your introduction is the entrance ramp to their highway.

The next time you’re ready to write an intro, consider these five guidelines:

1. Create thirst, don’t slake it.
Feed them pretzels and point to the water.

2. Offer samples.
Delight your readers with a few surprises right up front and they’ll want more.

3. Keep it timeless.
If you’re rushing a book to market on an explosive event, go for the moment. But if your theme is timeless (e.g., prayer), resist the urge to anchor it in today’s news. Todays news is tomorrow’s old newspapers. Bring transcendence instead.

4. Skip the obvious, and never condescend.
Even if we’re unhappy with the way things are, we don’t need to be told we’re unhappy. We know that already. Show us some light. Walk us through the woods and reveal a scenic vista. And don’t assume we’re wringing our hands. Even concerned readers are seldom quaking in their boots. More often they’re exploring what others have to say. Always write to a reader more intelligent than yourself. That person wants to know what you think.

5. Make it personal without making it about you (unless it’s a memoir!).
Readers welcome a companion. Especially one who shares colorful or valuable experience. But they seldom tolerate egotism. Intros that are all about the author leave no room for the reader. Unless your story is what they paid to read. David Ogilvy’s Confessions of an Advertising Man begins with eleven paragraphs about himself. Here is one of them:

“My boyhood hero had been Lloyd George, and I had expected to become Prime Minister when I grew up. Instead, I became an advertising agent on Madison Avenue; the revenues of my nineteen clients are now greater than the revenue of Her Majesty’s Government.”

These two sentences — both about the author — so intrigued me I stayed with him through all eleven chapters that followed.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but a nudge toward effective first impressions. Jerry Jenkins recently blogged about first lines. They’re worth every hour it takes to craft them. So are intros. Entice, amaze, whet, and compel. Guarantee a hearing. You’re making new friends, and you want them to stick around.